Where the Rivers Meet the Sea

They say all rivers eventually run to the sea, numerous small streams converging along the way until you have this great, flowing torrent that joins myriad other torrents to fill the seas, the oceans. That’s exactly how I feel about today’s discussion with Satsuki Takahashi. Her lecture and subsequent discussion brought together ideas and places and themes we’ve been discussing these past two, three weeks. Topics like fisheries management, nuclear energy and the Fukushima disaster, the roles of zoos and aquariums, etc. etc. on and on. Frankly, it was incredible and for me probably was tied with our visit to Tokyo Sea Life Park and discussion with Tada-sensei for best trip day. Easily my favorite lecture we’ve had as well.

Takahashi-sensei is an Associate Professor of Anthropology in the Faculty of Sustainability Studies at Hosei University, but did her undergraduate studies on fisheries. She talked a lot about Japan’s unending modernization and futurism, especially related to the development of its fisheries and nuclear power. Hope was a major theme of the talk as well. She also brought in a lot of her research (where she goes to fishing communities), which apparently was really enjoyable for her since, as a professor, she often is engrossed in the material she teaches and developing lesson plans. Her lecture was definitely enjoyable for us! In particular, I thought it was fascinating that, prior to 3/11, there was a fish hatchery coupled to the Fukushima Daiichi nulcear power plant in what Takahashi-sensei calls, “nuclear fish hatcheries.” That is, thermal discharge (superheated water used in the condenser of the nuclear power plant) is sent to the fish hatchery to accelerate growth and and spawning cycles, rather than be dumped into rivers or the sea where it could upset the thermal balance of those ecosystems.

Apparently, Takahashi-sensei’s next project is going to deal with the anthropology of aquariums in Japan as a maritime nation. I had the opportunity to talk with her about aquariums, and she revealed an interesting, somewhat new perspective to me (though I realized later it had echoes of what I had read in A Fascination for Fish) about how aquariums, more so than zoos, are concerned with the “natural aesthetic” and how the viewer sees the exhibit–that zoos are “more concerned with ecology”. I initially pushed back on this, arguing that I thought the reverse was true and that from what I had witnessed, aquariums tended to set up more natural or ecologically-representative communities in its exhibits, whereas zoos tended to display animal species in isolation, or occasionally in mixed-species exhibits. She clarified, though, that she speaking about “natural aesthetic” or “realism” from an animal-sake vs human-sake perspective. That is, zoos are less concerned with realism of its exhibits for the viewer’s sake but rather for animal well-being. Reflecting back, I think, based on the readings I’ve done and the discussion I had with Tada-sensei and my own visits to zoos and aquariums, that aquariums are generally (or should be) concerned with both “natural aesthetics.” That is, it’s equally important that the aquarium try to produce realistic, nature-mimicking exhibits both for the animal’s well-being and for the viewer’s immersion.